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West St. John-St. James annual rivalry provides quite a splash

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  • George Becnel
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  • August 29, 2017 - 11:35am

File photosWest St. John coach Brandon Walters and his Rams hope to bring the Railroad Classic trophy back home with win over rival St. James on Friday night.

With all the rain in the River Parishes this week related to the remnants of Hurricane Harvey, West St. John and St. James fans can’t help but harken back to the 2011 season opener.

In a game played at St. James in squall-like conditions due to Tropical Storm Lee, the Rams made quite a splash in taking an 18-12 overtime victory.

West St. John was trailing 12-6 when Jarius Moll literally dove into a flooded end zone on and end-around with eight seconds left in regulation to force overtime and ultimate Rams triumph.

“That definitely was one for the ages,” recalled Brandon Walters. “I can still see the big splash he made when he did that. I hope we don’t have the same kind of game this time.”

A lot has changed since 2011. Walters, then an assistant at West St. John, is now in his third year as head coach of the Rams. Robert Valdez, the West St. John head coach in 2011, is now in his second season as coach of rival St. James.

Also changing is the fact Friday night’s game with a 7 p.m. kickoff will be played in Edgard and on artificial turf. Both schools added the new playing surface since that 2011 encounter.

The turf should help not only field conditions in Friday’s game but in preparation for the contest as well, according to Walters.

“It kind of helps with practicing, being able to kind of get out when the weather clears up enough to do it. The weather definitely poses a big challenge,” said Walters.

Although they didn’t face one another last week, both teams participated in the River Parishes Jamboree at St. James, allowing for some last-minute, in-person scouting.

“I was able to coach with Coach Valdez those years and the things that he’s doing right now I’m familiar with them,” Walters said. “They are a zone read-type team. He likes to run the ball at you. He’s an offensive line guy so he definitely wants to pound it inside. He hangs his hat on the offensive line and he teaches those guys to be aggressive and fire off the ball.

“They like spread it out and throw the ball around. They like to get you in space and let the quarterback do his thing with his feet and then they try to run the ball right down your throat. They are balanced offensively and try to attack you from different angles.”

One guy who caught Walters’ eye at the jamboree was St. James running back Dontaz Sterling, who scored on an 88-yard scamper.

“He showed us he’s definitely a home-run hitter. He has the speed and if you give him a crease, he can take it the distance like he did last week versus Assumption,” said Walters.

Also getting some carries for the Wildcats is running back Sean Lebeouf.

“Those two guys can definitely carry the load for them. They definitely can tote the ball pretty well. You have to wrap up and tackle them. They don’t go down very easily. We have to make sure we are sound with our tackling and being in the right place against them,” Walters said.

The Wildcats are younger and inexperienced at the receiver position compared to recent years. The emerging top target is likely to be sophomore Shamar Smith.

“He’s a good-looking kid,” Walters said of Smith. “They try to get the ball to him but you have to account for the other kids on the field as well.”

Directing the St. James offense is senior quarterback Damarcus Williams. Williams likely would be a first-time starter in 2017 but due to injuries to Lowell Narcisse, now at LSU, he is entering the year as a seasoned veteran.

“He’s a great athlete,” Walters said of Williams. “He’s really fast and very elusive. He has a good arm. He can throw it down the field. He definitely poses some problems and some threats. We will have to get him corralled and not let him do what he does best and that’s move his feet and make plays with his feet.”

If Friday’s game is anything like last season’s 25-14 loss for West St. John, the Rams can expect a lot of pressure from the St. James defense, according to Walters.

“The blitzed us almost every play,” Walters said. “I think they saw some things offensively that they were trying to attack and that’s what they did. They got after us pretty good last year with the blitz.

“Some of the things we’ve seen have been some changes similar to what we run with nickel package or 4-2-5 defense. We’ve seen some changes in them but they play anywhere from a 3-4 to a 4-2-5 and we’ve seen them mix it up.”

The St. James defense is led by Shawn Preston, a Mississippi State commitment, and Jason Dumas.

“They moved (Preston) around a little bit from safety to linebacker to kind of involve him more into the box play. The nose guard (Jason Dumas) is definitely the monster of that defense. He’s pretty much the anchor and they pretty much play and feed off of him. They are both two very talented kids,” said Walters.

The winner of the West St. John-St. James game gets the Railroad Classic trophy. With Friday’s game in Edgard, the Rams seek a win to keep the trophy in town.

“It makes the game more interesting,” Walters said of the trophy. “You have something to fight for that’s tangible besides just winning the rivalry. It provides something tangible that you can hold and give us bragging rights for a year. It’s definitely something we look forward to try and get it back. We lost it last year after winning it every year since its inception. We definitely we play and do what we need to do to get the trophy back.”

George Becnel | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

George Becnel is an award-winning journalist and has been a sports writer and editor for more than 30 years.